[BLOG] Farewell to Qatar. Hits, misses and all things in between
Alex Silberman, an expatriate who has lived in Qatar for three years, is leaving Qatar. He reflects on his experience in Doha, from nights in the dunes and bad drivers to Arab hospitality and Indian food. In his reflections the essence of Qatar emerges – not as one entity, but as a collage of cultures, behaviour and opinions of those who call this home.
I will miss Qatar.
I will miss the gorgeous winter nights, the gentle breeze drifting across the city in the fall, and swimming in the warm ocean water in the spring.
I will not miss the scorching heat of the summer.
I will miss the calm of Friday mornings, my favourite time to go grocery shopping at Family Food Centre. I will miss Facebook posts from students that say, “Salaam you guys and Jumaa mubarak inshallah.”
I will miss the beauty of pristine sand dunes that stretch beyond the horizon. I will miss visiting the desert on a Friday afternoon with friends or visitors. I will miss the thrill of dune-bashing in ATVs and SUVs, and the kindness of strangers who are willing to offer a hand to help their neighbours in the desert.
I will not miss Doha’s traffic. I will not miss driving next to an army of poorly-maintained industrial vehicles. I will not miss the drivers who put everyone in danger with their speed and risk-taking. No, I will not move over because you are flashing your high-beams at me!
I will not miss four-lane streets that merge into two-lane roundabouts.
I will miss spending hours in the Georgetown University Atrium chatting with students. I will miss seeing them grow from shy first-year students into confident, motivated, and compassionate women and men. I will miss celebrating their achievements on the football, basketball, or cricket pitch, and I will miss trying (and failing) to convince them that American football is a superior sport.
I will miss learning from our students about their home countries and hearing their opinions on current international events. I will miss teaching them in turn about community engagement and social justice. I will miss laughing with them about the most unusual things.
I will miss sitting at Bandar on the Corniche with a good friend, holding a hot cup of karak and gazing at the West Bay skyline. I will miss sharing conversations about everything from Israel-Palestine to Indian politics to the brilliance of Roger Waters.
I will miss the delicious, wonderful, and inexpensive Arab, Indian, and Thai food that has directly led me to gain the “Doha Dozen.” I will not miss the actual “Doha Dozen,” which my experience has proven to be not in pounds, but in kilograms.
I will miss Qatar’s phenomenal diversity, which makes every day an exercise in cross-cultural dialogue. I will miss driving in vehicles with five people representing five distinct nationalities. I will miss trying to learn a few phrases in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Greek, Italian, and Swahili, only to forget those expressions unless I write them down.
I will not miss stereotypes about Qatari citizens, who are frequently the victims of attacks relating to ignorant perceptions of Qatari wealth and power. I will not miss stereotypes about low-income ‘labourers’ and high-income ‘expatriates’, who are both often viewed through a lens shaped by prejudice rather than personal experience.
I will miss late nights at Cornik, my favorite shisha spot in town, in the company of men from many different walks of life. I will miss sitting on cushioned benches watching burning coals fly about in a wonderfully chaotic fashion. I will miss doing my best to learn inappropriate words in Malayalam and being inexplicably adopted into the ‘Mallu’ community.
I will not miss the abusive system of migrant labour in Qatar, which enables some business owners to profit at the expense of vulnerable economic migrants. I will not miss the lack of protection for domestic workers, the minimal regulations surrounding recruitment agencies, and the deficiency of labour law enforcement regulating basic pay, accommodation, and employment rights. I will not miss talking to migrants about the multitude of ways that their employers deprive them of financial, health, and leave benefits.
I will miss the passionate people in Qatar who want to make a difference in the world. I will miss the Qatari who is tackling migration issues head-on; the Palestinian who is consumed by achieving justice in his home country; the Indian who has mentored countless youths to better understand themselves and impact their communities; the Egyptian who is dedicated to fighting sexual harassment in her home country and Doha; the Qatari who seeks to better understand his nation’s history, identity, and culture; the Egyptian-American who has inspired a veritable revolution on the way youths discuss physical and mental disability; and the Indian who ignited my personal and professional interest in international development and migration justice.
I will miss nights camping out under the stars in the desert, singing songs and playing guitar. I will miss almost losing friends in the desert and laughing about it afterwards, failing to set up our tent at night, and accidentally spilling ketchup on our friends’ dogs.
I will miss the feeling of overwhelming joy and surprise when QBS Radio plays a classic rock song. I will miss my French radio station, which usually manages to play a better selection of music than the radio’s usual mix of terrible house music and top-10 songs from 2012.
I will not miss the gender norms that allow men to behave inappropriately towards women. Staring at a woman until she feels uncomfortable is generally not OK, in my book. Following women in your car at night is not sexy. Impromptu marriage proposals or other sorts of propositions are not attractive, and those actions constitute harassment.
I will not miss the smoke-filled, over-priced bars with bizarre rules and mediocre drinks. I will not miss having to change into long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a button-down shirt before heading to meet up with friends at a bar. If I never drink a Belgian beer again, it will be too soon.
I will miss wandering around Souq Waqif, a vibrant market for spices and clothing even as it has grown into the biggest tourist attraction in Qatar. I will miss leisurely walks in the Museum of Islamic Art, learning about the Muslim World’s history of artistic and scientific prowess and drinking an excellent cappuccino. I will miss feeling like a minuscule insect in the overwhelmingly large Katara complex. I will miss strolling around the Pearl and making late-night burger runs.
I will not miss the immigration, police, and traffic bureaucracies that appear impenetrable to an outsider. I will not miss patiently waiting in lines while people all around me pay no heed to any type of logistical order. “Yes, sir, please step in front of me even though I have been waiting for an hour and you just arrived.”
I will miss the openness with which people hold their religion and their willingness to talk about matters of faith. I will miss an environment that, contrary to my expectations, exhibited curiosity about and interest in my Jewish religion. I will miss dialogues where Muslims are joined by Christians, Hindus, and atheists to learn from each other. I will miss walking away from those conversation with clearer convictions about my own religious beliefs.
I will miss saying words like “inshallah,” “y3nni,” and “shway shway” to people with a smile on my face, though I will not miss trying to figure out how those words are being used. Is that an Arab “inshallah,” or an American “inshallah”?
I will miss a culture that has me helplessly in the grips of a love-hate relationship.
I will miss a place that has tried to show me nothing but hospitality.
I will miss the wonderful people that have defined my experience abroad.
I will miss Qatar.